Religion

Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

Faith Formation Networks

One of the most exciting ideas I’ve come across so far in my studies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) is the Faith Formation Network. John Roberto, in chapter 3 of his book, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century presents this idea of Christian education in the context of digital media, connected learning, and personal learning networks. This is an idea I’ve had that I’ve been trying to find words for and an example of for a long time.

For me, this is something very different from parishes using social media to market their churches or even organizations using digital media to create and curate content. These are both components of a faith formation network, but merely components. The Faith Formation Learning Exchange gets us much close to finding faith formation networks, but if a faith formation network is based on a personal learning network, then it must be something individuals create for themselves.

There are various starting points for a faith formation network, and it seems as if many of the starting points right now seem to be focused on extending existing resources, like a church or seminary webpage or social media presence. It seems like we need some other starting points.

To illustrate this, let me relate an old marketing adage. People don’t by shovels, they buy holes. People buy things because they want or need it. They don’t need a shovel. They need to get a hole dug. The shovel that will be most helpful getting that hole dug is the one they will buy. We need to be thinking about experiences of the divine the same sort of way. People want to experience God. They want to experience forgiveness, acceptance, love, community, and many other things that we associate with God. For many people I know, church is probably the last place they would look for these sorts of things, with seminary coming in a close second.

Those of us who are drawn to God who wish to draw others to God need to think carefully about how people are invited into their faith formation network. To illustrate this, let me explore a little bit of my faith formation network.

I will start with one of the churches I currently attend, Grace and St. Peters in Hamden, CT. While not everyone will start there, and where you start probably doesn’t especially matter, especially if you are thinking of a faith formation network in the context of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, it is where many people start. There are a few important things to point out about the church I attend on most Sunday mornings. We started attending that church because my wife was friends with someone from that church in an online community and that friend invited us to church. It was an example of someone from one online network inviting another person to another network, which in this case was not online.

Another thing to notice is that I mention Grace and St Peters as one of the churches I currently attend. On Thursdays at lunch time, I attend a Eucharist service at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, CT. On Saturday evenings, I attend vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia, CT. I also attend a dinner bible study and worship on Thursday evenings with people from Andover Newton seminary at Yale Divinity School and participate in their closed Facebook group. In a faith formation network, people find many similar and competing resources across the religious spectrum.

As part of being a member of the CDSP community I help maintain and participate in the CDSP Virtual Daily Office. This is a digital resource which ties back to digital communities. I’m in a small closed Facebook group with a cohort of students who first arrived on campus in the summer of 2018. We talk about the daily office there and the cycle of prayers that is currently being used in the daily office comes from that group.

I am also part of a small group that I started on Facebook for people seeking discernment. Given the difficulties of my own journey, I started the group and it has grown. One person from that group has started studies at CDSP. All of this illustrates the interconnectedness of groups and resources in a personal learning network.

There are numerous other resources that are part of my faith formation network. A high school classmate whose blog I subscribe to. A friend from my young adult days in New York City has a blog, Water Daily that I subscribe to. I subscribe to some of the better known resources online, like Brother, Give Us A Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. There are a lot of resources like this that I subscribe to and I should probably find time to curate this list and make it more available.

There are also the various live streams on Facebook that are part of my faith formation network. Right now, one that I especially appreciate is Pop-up Prayer with Canon Katie. She identifies herself as ‘your Facebook priest’ and ends each pop-up prayer reminding people that they are “so loved by God”. It is a wonderful ministry and exemplifies much of what it means to be a node in a faith formation network. Another group of Facebook resources that I subscribe to is live church streams, perhaps best exemplified for me right now with Dallas West Church of Christ. This is the church where Botham Shem Jean attended and I started watching their streams as they remembered Botham’s life and called all of us to action.

Dallas West Church of Christ illustrates my point about shovels. I started watching their stream, not because I was looking for a church. I started watching their stream because I was praying for justice and their prayers and my prayers came together.

Next week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at Western Mass Revival. I have been talking with the organizers about what happens after the revival. I’m particularly interested in this in terms of faith formation networks. We’ve set up a Facebook page for people who will be attending the revival, either in person, or watching the live stream. If you are attending the revival and want to join with us in a faith formation network, check out WMA Way of Love.

I hope to build upon some of this for a project for Postmodern Christianity and learn more about the role faith formation networks will play in my journey and the journey of those around me.

Whatever is right...

This week, I’ve been reached out to as the administrator of two different groups where things were getting divisive and nasty. In one group, I closed the comments and posted some thoughts. The original post ended up being taken down by someone else. In the other group, I simply deleted a post and shared my thoughts about the purpose of the group.

One of the groups is about the town I grew up in. I posted,

I remember growing up near the top of Henderson road. I often felt a social awkward and like a bit of an outcast. I remember when people picked on me. They called me names and threatened me. More often, I remember the kindness of people in a beautiful village overlooked by a majestic mountain.
The name calling and threats were not appropriate in elementary school and they are not appropriate here. Please join with me in helping make this place on Facebook as beautiful as the village we grew up in.

This resulted in a wonderful discussion. A few people shared memories of my late mother and we had a good time reminiscing. A few people spoke about having been bullied in school. One person confessed to having bullied people and asked forgiveness.

To that person, I responded,

Thank you for your response. I suspect that if we are honest, pretty much all of us have bullied people in the past, often in response to peer pressure.

The second group is for Christian seeking ways to share their faith in new ways in our secular world. I person posted a political video which started an argument about the current political administration in the United States. I posted,

I would like to remind people of the goal of this group. To quote from the description from early on, “Episcopalians need to get out more, talk about why they love the church, and have a pioneer spirit…we should seek out places where the church isn't known and plant seeds of hope and love.”
While our faith calls us to speak out about political injustices as we see them, this is not the place for it. Instead, this is a place where we should be exploring how we love our neighbors as ourselves; our Republican neighbors, our Democratic neighbors, and most importantly, our neighbors who are searching for God in this secular world, even if they wouldn’t use such language.

A friend of mine who alerted me to the post said in a private message (shared with permission),

I’d hate to see our little community just turn into another churning sea of discord. Perhaps it’s inevitable?

I responded,

I don't believe it is inevitable. Instead, I believe we are called to stand up against the tide of discord. To do this, we need to be intentional.

So, this is an invitation to all of us to intentionally stand against the tide of discord, to love our neighbors we disagree with, or, to quote Philippians,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

A Way of Love for Aspiring Non-stipendiary Priests. #GC79 A007 and #MeToo

I pause briefly from my studies in the history of the 1789 American Book of Common Prayer to read the latest dispatches from the Episcopal General Convention. How does The Way of Love that Presiding Bishop Curry spoke about, the Liturgy of Listening in response to #MeToo, and the work of the Committee on Ministry relate to me?

I became an Episcopalian over forty years ago back when I was in college but my relationship with the denomination has been a bit rocky over the past few years.

I had started college believing I was called to ministry and planned to major in religion, go to seminar, and become a preacher. I changed majors to philosophy, dropped out, and ended up working with computers. Yet that sense of calling never left no matter how hard I tried to ignore it or make up excuses about how it just wasn’t feasible for me.

A few years ago during a guided meditation at a conference on poetry and worship at Yale Divinity School I had a strong sense of God telling me that my whole life has been about showing God love and that I really needed to answer God’s call. So I started the process, only to be rejected by the Commission on Ministry. I was never told why and not given any support in dealing with this spiritual crisis.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a college dropout in their fifties who needs to support a family to become a priest.

A few spiritual guides told me that I would not be happy until I went to seminary and taking their advice I searched around for a program that might work for me. I had taken an online continuing education course with Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) which I got a lot out of so I looked to see if they might be a fit for me. I decided to apply for their Online Certificate of Theological Studies program thinking it would be a good opportunity to see online seminary life was a fit for me.

After completing my first two semesters, I headed out to CDSP for a two-week summer intensive. The research I’m taking a break from is for one of those courses. I wandered the campus, met my classmates and professors, and was overwhelmed with joy. CDSP was exactly where I was meant to be. I put in my paperwork to change programs and am now officially part of the Low Residency Masters of Divinity Program. I am still not sure where it will lead, but sometimes it is more important to know you are in the right place heading in the right direction than to know where you are going.

One of my fellow seminarians who is at General Convention share a link to a blog post about the ”Liturgy of Listening”. I made sure to watch the livestream of the liturgy. It was incredibly powerful bringing up complicated reactions.

The wounds I carry from ‘the process’ are very different from the wounds we heard about in the liturgy and I want to be careful not to diminish in any way the stories of those hurt by sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation, yet as I heard the stories, I thought to myself, “In my own way, #MeToo”.

Another blog post, by the same author, And Then, Silence: Reflecting on the Liturgy of Listening gave me a way of thinking about this that was very helpful. My wounds from ‘the process’ and the wounds of many others that I’ve heard about over the past few years are not as bad as the wounds of sexual abuse. In this context, my wounds are “not too bad”. Yet as the author writes, “Not too bad is a tragedy. We must be better than this.” I hope and pray that the “Liturgy of Listening” will move the church forward in addressing issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. I also hope that someday the church will address the issue of those who feel called the priesthood, especially to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priesthood and don’t see a way forward.

One way the church can address this is to seriously consider Resolution A007 Establish Committee to Study Relationship of Episcopal Seminaries with General Convention, One Another and the Wider Church. Objections to this resolution can be found in Deans Oppose Seminary Investigation

The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, dean and president of General Theological Seminary, said a top-down approach would not lead to good results. But he said the plan might have some promise if properly modified.

From my own experiences I can see problems with a top-down approach. Yet starting with a “Liturgy of Listening” to small parishes seeking non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priests and to people that feel called to such a ministry might be part of the modification that is needed.

The church does need to think more seriously and more creatively about how priests are called and formed in twenty-first century America, and Resolution A007 sounds like a very important starting point on our journey together on The Way of Love.

Backgrounder: #Pentecost2018 – From #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough to @pb_curry at the #RoyalWedding

If humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire. – The sermon of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding

(See the video or read the text)

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2

Today in the western church, we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate that day when the power of Love rested on each of the disciples as a divided tongue of fire. We also celebrate the power of the Spirit resting on Presiding Bishop Curry. God’s Love burst in like tongues of Fire in a world desperately needing to hear it.

With all the horrible news over the past few weeks, the whole wedding, with Bishop Curry preaching and The Kingdom Choir singing “Stand by Me”, was the balm that we all so desperately needed.

In John 20, we read about the disciples huddling in fear on the Sunday of the Resurrection.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!"

In many ways, it feels like in recent days we’ve been huddled behind locked doors in fear of the racists, misogynists, and PussyGrabbers. In many ways it felt to me like Bishop Curry was saying #MeToo and #EnoughIsEnough.

At one point, Bishop Curry talked about “some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform”. They knew that “If you cannot preach like Peter [and here, I would add, or like Michael] and you cannot pray like Paul [and here I would add or like Archbishop Angaelos and The Reverend Prebendary Rose HudsonWilkin], you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all. Oh that’s the balm in Gilead. This way of love is the way of life.” His words were the balm we need right now.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a dream that one day on the green hills of England the children of former slaves and the children of former slave traders will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

A friend of mine put it this way on his Facebook page.

I am filled with gratitude that, in a season when American Christianity is too often represented by preachers who have pledged allegiance to the current administration in Washington, we heard a sermon from an American Christian leader, a wedding homily proclaiming love, not hate, inclusion, not judgment. It fills me with hope. Thank you, Bishop Curry, for showing us what the Jesus movement looks like in the world today.

He, like many of my friends has recently shared what I refer to as “The Barmen Declaration 2018”. If you don’t get the reference, watch the video and then read up about the Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934.

For those who want to know more, I encourage you start by watching Bishop Curry’s video about The Eucharist and about The Jesus Movement.

Finally, if you want to experience this Love, this Fire, get to church. Today, the western church (Protestants and Roman Catholics) celebrates Pentecost. If you miss it, next week, the eastern church (Orthodox) celebrates Eucharist. Not every church will be as beautiful as St. George’s Chapel. Not every church will have a choir as powerful as The Kingdom Choir, not every church will have a preacher as gifted as Bishop Curry; they might not even be fully living into that power of Love that Bishop Curry preached about, but it’s a good place to start.

Come, Holy Sprit, Come.

First Look: Inspired by @rachelheldevans

When the famous German theologian, Karl Barth was asked to summarize the millions of words he had written, he reportedly responded, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” These words come back to me as I finish my second semester of seminary. I have been studying the greatest love story of all time and it isn’t just some academic pursuit, it is a story I am caught up in the middle of.

There is the story of the burning bush and the comment about how the miracle is not that the bush was not consumed, the real miracle was that Moses noticed. In the turmoil of our daily lives, we often don’t notice how God is telling us that he loves us. We get caught up in the drama, the conflict, or simply the academic studies.

Yesterday, I received a reminder in an unexpected way. I received an advance copy of Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans.

In between my class assignments, I’ve started reading it. The introduction starts off with personal stories of Evans struggling with what the Bible means in our lives today. She starts off from the perspective of growing up in the Bible belt, going to a conservative Christian college, and struggling with how to make sense of the Bible in our post-modern milieu.

At least a little ways into the introduction, this seems like a really important book for our age. It is important to those trying to figure out their relationship to God and stories about God. It is important to those trying to figure out what Jesus would do and how we should then live. Yet it is perhaps even more important to anyone who is trying to struggle with devastating polarization in American politics today.

Hopefully, over the next few weeks I’ll have the opportunity to write more about this book. I look forward to other people’s comments about the book as well.

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